Christianity 201

July 6, 2020

Found Naked: Paul’s Meaning in 2 Cor. 5:3

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:39 pm
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Meanwhile we groan, longing to be clothed instead with our heavenly dwelling, because when we are clothed, we will not be found naked.
2 Corinthians 5: 2-3

Just hours before our 5:30 PM deadline, I received a letter from a cousin asking about a particular Bible passage. I don’t claim that this is the best answer you’ll ever find on the internet concerning this verse, but I also wanted to share my process with her when delving into difficult-to-understand verses.

Hi Paul,

I’ve been reading 2nd Corinthians chapter five, verse three and I have a question, so I thought I’d turn to you to get your take on this. In this verse it says “if so be that being clothed we shall not be found naked.”

This is not the first place in scripture that I’ve read a fear of being found to be a “naked or unclothed” spirit. My question is, what is so fearful about being found to be a spirit without covering? I think of spirit as being a kind of pure energy or light.  Not necessarily in human form. Genesis has some really interesting things to say about this as regards the condition of Adam and Eve after the fall, such that God covered them in skin (not skins).

Not the easiest question.

The IVP Bible Commentary notes:

Second Corinthians 5:1-10 is one of the most researched and written-about passages in Paul’s writings–and for a good reason. Paul is tackling the topic of the Christian hope beyond the grave, and more specifically, what happens to the believer at the point of death. In our culture the subject of death holds a certain fascination as well as repulsion. On the one hand, we try to mask the fact of death with euphemisms such as “he passed on” and “she went to a better place” and with funeral rites such as viewing the body, remarking how well someone looks and placing flowers on the grave. On the other hand, our culture, especially in recent years, has displayed an attraction to the topic of death in the form of accounts of near-death experiences, a resurgence of spiritism, the growing popularity of the New Age movement and the like… [continue reading here]

First of all, I don’t think on a basic reading of this verse I would go to the Genesis passage in parallel with this, for reasons too long to get into here.

There are some things you can do when you encounter a tough passage…

Step One: Establish the context.

With the possible exception of verse 3 (!) most people know this passage well as the one where Paul is describing — as only someone can who worked in canvas as he did — our bodies as a tent. So “when this tent is taken down” is talking about death. But here it gets tricky early on, because the word tent is reminiscent of ‘tabernacle’ so is this analogy just intended for believers? (See below.) Writing to the Corinthian church, this is a reasonable assumption. He’s talking about that covering or tent being removed, but then longing for a covering which is far better — a heavenly dwelling as the NIV puts it in verse 4. So it’s not that the metaphor is mixed, it’s just that it’s complicated; namely we do have a covering — and we are the tabernacle or dwelling place of the Holy Spirit — but we have a far better one coming. So we want to (at God’s appointed time) shed the former to put on the latter, we don’t want to be found without either. (More on what that would look like in step 3.)

Step Two: Let the translators do the work for you.

I think it’s interesting how the ‘freer’ translations are set up so the individual verses don’t show on BibleGateway.  You`re forced to read in a larger context. Eugene Peterson doesn’t (in my opinion) directly address the naked thing, but looks at the passage as a whole:

For instance, we know that when these bodies of ours are taken down like tents and folded away, they will be replaced by resurrection bodies in heaven—God-made, not handmade—and we’ll never have to relocate our “tents” again. Sometimes we can hardly wait to move—and so we cry out in frustration. Compared to what’s coming, living conditions around here seem like a stopover in an unfurnished shack, and we’re tired of it! We’ve been given a glimpse of the real thing, our true home, our resurrection bodies! The Spirit of God whets our appetite by giving us a taste of what’s ahead. He puts a little of heaven in our hearts so that we’ll never settle for less.

JB Phillips echoes what I said looking at the passage contextually:

We know, for instance, that if our earthly dwelling were taken down, like a tent, we have a permanent house in Heaven, made, not by man, but by God. In this present frame we sigh with deep longing for the heavenly house, for we do not want to face utter nakedness when death destroys our present dwelling—these bodies of ours. So long as we are clothed in this temporary dwelling we have a painful longing, not because we want just to get rid of these “clothes” but because we want to know the full cover of the permanent house that will be ours. We want our transitory life to be absorbed into the life that is eternal.

So what does this nakedness look like? I could see how it could be used as a pretext for annihilation; an entry into a period when the soul ceases to exist. That provides comfort for people who don’t believe in a ECT hell – eternal conscious torment – but it could just as easily describe other forms of an eternity without God. Again, see what follows.

Step Three: Study Bibles and Bible Commentaries:

Space is limited so I’ll just deal with one here. I’m very fortunate to have in my collection To Corinth With Love by the U.K.’s Michael Green, published in 1988. He deals with this on pages 139-160.

► First, he points out that the Corinthians were “resurrection” people. Each doctrine we stress is often at the expense of another doctrine. So death was a topic that was less-discussed and the Corinthians were less well-versed on what we might call a doctrinal position on death itself.

► But they were very much celebratory concerning the resurrection. Therefore, to get the bigger picture, 2 Corinthians 5 needs to be read in context with a parallel passage in 1 Corinthians 15. (Space prevents a longer exposition.)

► There is a sense — gathered from Green’s writing but not expressed directly as I would like — that the danger might be in leaving this earth without making appropriate consideration for the next. In other words, the passage has an Evangelical urgency to it.

► However, nakedness is not the only metaphor. In writing to the Thessalonians, he describes the in-between stage as sleep rather than nakedness. See, for example, verse 16 of chapter 4. For we believe that Jesus died and rose again, and so we believe that God will bring with Jesus those who have fallen asleep in him. Again though notice the words in him. This echoes for me what I suggested in Step One, that these words are being spoken, if not to believers, to both followers and not-yet-followers gathered in the assembled congregation at Corinth or Thessalonica.

So there is the present age, an age to come, but also an in-between stage for those who die in Christ.

…I hope that points everyone toward the right direction on this one!